Our undisputed top story of the past two weeks has been the Icelandic reaction to the American reaction to Iceland’s abortion laws and Down’s Syndrome. A recent report on American news station CBS pointed out that medical professionals in Iceland are obliged to offer expecting mothers the option of pre-natal screening, and that the majority of those women who find out that there are signs of Down’s Syndrome in the developing fetus elect to terminate the pregnancy. Evangelicals and reactionaries of all stripes jumped on this story, misrepresenting it as “the Icelandic government forcing women to kill Down’s Syndrome children, completely wiping them out of the population.” The truth is: not all women even accept the pre-natal screening when it is offered, let alone elect to have an abortion after discovering possible signs of Down’s Syndrome, and there are many wonderful people of all ages with Down’s Syndrome in Iceland. You can’t believe everything Sarah Palin tells you, amazing as that sounds.
Speaking of amazing, we have actually had some positive news about asylum seekers lately. The Ministry of Justice announced that they will award an 830 million ISK contract to one lucky organisation, which will become an independent body advocating on behalf of asylum seekers in Iceland, as well as providing legal services to them. In addition, a travelling installation piece will give locals the chance to listen to asylum seekers tell their stories in their own words, shedding light on the human aspect of the issue. Lastly, some 15,000 Icelanders signed a petition imploring the Ministry of Justice to stop the deportation of two families who are due to be sent out of the country. Maybe things are turning around? We’ll believe it when we see it.
Things are heating up in Reykjanesbær, where the controversial United Silicon plant is still causing health problems for residents in the area. There have been numerous incidents involving malfunctions at the plant, leading to air pollution and subsequent respiratory problems for people living near the plant. When this first occurred last November, the operators of the plant talked about “beginner’s mistakes.” That excuse doesn’t hold much water ten months down the road. Now, residents are calling upon the municipality to close the plant altogether. Unfortunately, a lot of groupsincluding a major pension fund—are heavily invested in the plant. How this matter will resolve itself is anyone’s guess, but the people of Reykjanesbær are already out of patience.
Some come to Iceland by plane, others by ferry. This is child’s play for Icelander Fiann Paul, who is currently rowing from Svalbard to Iceland, a world record-breaking journey that will cover some 2000 kilometres of open sea. He’s not doing this alone—a team is on board to help row, but they’re not being followed by any sort of rescue boat, so they’re on their own. If you were looking for a cheaper way to visit Iceland, take note.